— Just a couple of weeks into this season’s ballroom battle, one thing seemed clear: Barring any major dance-floor mishaps, war-hero-turned-actor J.R. Martinez was poised to win the coveted mirror ball trophy when it was all over.
On Tuesday night’s “Dancing With the Stars” finale, he did just that.
In fact, the only surprise about Martinez’s victory was that it came after one last dance-off with Rob Kardashian rather than dancing queen Ricki Lake, who missed out on a spot in the final two once viewer votes were factored in.
Some might consider that a shame, as Lake kicked off the night with a reprise of her memorable tango set to the theme of “Psycho.” While it lacked the intensity of her first effort, it still made for the best performance of the night — and of course, her last of the competition.
Lake’s loss, which also marked the first time her pro partner, Derek Hough, made it to the finals without a win, made way for a break in the competition. So while the final two prepared for a samba showdown, familiar faces filled the ballroom for one last shot at dance-floor fame.
In a lengthy, non-competitive routine roundup, each of the eliminated acts returned. From the looks of it, few of them hung up their “Dancing” shoes while they were away.
The standout performances included a redemption re-do for Chynna Phillips as she showed the crowd just what her doomed “Mission: Impossible” dance was meant to look like before she got the ballroom boot. There was also an over-the-top “Vogue” number from Carson Kressley that both wowed the crowd and fulfilled one of the fashion guru’s dreams — to dance with a Chmerkovskiy. (Val, for those keeping track of the ballroom brothers. And who isn’t?)
After that it was back to the evening’s main men. Both hoofer hopefuls had something to prove, and not just that they each deserved to win. They also needed to prove that their first performances of the night were just flukes.
Before their sambas, they each repeated a favorite dance, just as Lake had. But unlike Lake’s top-notch performance, Kardashian and Martinez lagged. Sure, head judge Len Goodman told the reality star he had “the best footwork of just about any guy (he’s) seen on the show.” But anyone who watched Kardashian’s foxtrot, or any other routine this season, knew better.
At least Martinez heard fair criticism for his jive, despite performing a bit better than Kardashian, when Carrie Ann Inaba pointed out that he had “a rough time in there.”
In their sambas, Kardashian and Martinez were just about evenly matched, and not in a good way. The so-so performances were better than their first efforts, but frankly, nowhere near the sort of finale night hurrahs fans have seen from other celebs in the past.
The judges didn’t seem to notice, or if they did, they decided to keep it to themselves and hand out a matching set of perfect 10s to both men anyway.
Still, no amount of lackluster last moves could conceal the fact that Martinez was the better dancer throughout the competition. Clearly, viewers knew that, as it was their votes that gave him the win when the final scores from the judges put him one point behind his competition.
As host Tom Bergeron handed the sparkling, and yes, somewhat tacky trophy to the man he called an “inspiration since the first time (he) stepped on the floor,” an emotional Martinez gladly accepted it.
“First and foremost, I want to thank everybody who voted for us for 10 weeks,” Martinez said. “Thank you, America, for believing in us.” Then, turning to partner Karina Smirnoff, he added, “I want to say, you know what? You are amazing, and I’m so grateful that I was able to be a part of your first mirror ball trophy. Thank you very much.”
Here’s hoping she returned the thanks. Recent stumbles aside, Martinez made for one heck of a “Dancing” star.